by J. Heinrich Arnold

From a letter:

Never forget that an act of love to one's fellowman is the only important act of the day. Everything else is of no value before God and may even tear us from him or separate us from our brothers. How strongly Jesus impresses this on our hearts in his prophecies about the Last Judgment! The question is never whether we are well-organized or act correctly, but whether we feed the hungry, take in strangers, clothe the naked, or visit those who are sick or in prison - in other words, whether we act out of love and compassion. Let us never pass by the need of another or forget the words and actions that strengthen love.

Just as no one has so few gifts that he cannot be moved by God, no one has so many gifts that he is too good to do simple manual work. We must be willing to do any service asked of us, to serve in the humblest place. A man may be the most gifted person in his community, but if he lacks humility, if his heart is not moved by the spirit of Jesus, his life will be unfruitful.

The parable of the talents is perhaps best understood in the context of the church: the talents are gifts given to different brothers and sisters. One person receives the gift of wisdom, another knowledge, another faith, healing, prophecy, discernment, speaking in tongues, or interpretation. These gifts are all required for the various tasks of the church, from leadership to any other. There is no difference in their importance; they all are parts of one body. The eye is no more important than the ear - they simply are two different organs.

Some people would like to see no differences. They think that if everyone were the same no one would know who was who, and then true justice would be established. But that is not the Gospel of Jesus. In Matthew 25, we read of a man who was given only one talent. This man felt he had not been given his fair share, and so he hated his master. He did nothing with his talent but hardened his heart. He not only lacked love, he was filled with hatred. He said, "Master, I knew you to be a hard man." That is the worst thing that can happen to us: to feel we have not been given our fair share; to feel that others have received more from God; and then to become so envious and loveless - so separated from the Body - that we do not contribute to it in any way at all. The master in the parable said, "You should have at least put the money in the bank." He meant, "Do at least the little you are able to do."

One person is brilliant, another deft with his hands, another very musical. These are natural gifts, and they should not be buried, though for the common good of the church they often have to be sacrificed. It would be wrong if someone with intellectual gifts thought he could do only intellectual work - otherwise he would be "burying his talents" - or if a very musical person thought she was wasting her talent by doing menial work. We must be willing to sacrifice our natural talents for the sake of the whole Body.

From a letter:

You write that you are not very gifted. That does not matter. No one has so few gifts that he cannot be moved by God. What matters is that you use the gifts you do possess - that they are brought into movement by God. It is never a lack of gifts that is the problem, but a lack of readiness to be used by God.

In 1 Corinthians 12 and 13, the apostle Paul speaks of many different gifts, including prophecy, leadership, healing, and speaking in tongues. But then he says that all these great gifts are nothing without love. Our communal life is a gift too, but unless God gives us love over and over again, it will become as lifeless as a machine.

The gift of discernment of spirits is vital for a living church, but it must be given by God. It is not a human gift. When we as individuals or a group tolerate a mixture of spirits in our midst, we lose contact with the spirit of God, even if we think we are being broad-minded.

On the other hand, we must guard against fighting impure or false spirits with human zeal and correcting or criticizing one another out of fear that something false might enter the church. We must recognize the importance of discerning spirits, yet we must also recognize that it is no help to separate them in a human way.

The parable of the wheat and weeds growing together in one field shows how we can cause harm by attempting to "clean the field" ourselves. The disciples were full of zeal, but Jesus warned them to be careful, saying, "Wait, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them." There is always the danger of correcting too much, of admonishing each other too much. The only answer is for us to be more dependent on God.

The gift of speaking in tongues was granted at Pentecost through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It was definitely a divine and holy experience, and we should have deep reverence for it. I believe that today, too, such holy experiences may be given. But we must guard against the spirit of error.

People speak too lightly about being "filled with the Spirit" and possessing "gifts of the Spirit." These terms are often applied to speaking in tongues, but in the New Testament these phrases are used in that connection only in a few instances. In many other instances there is no mention of tongues. Who would dare to say that one cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit without the evidence of tongues? Thirty years before Pentecost, Elizabeth and Zechariah were "filled with the Holy Spirit." And there have been millions of instances since then when people who did not speak in tongues were brought to salvation.

In the early church, speaking in tongues was closely related to repentance. Jesus started his mission with a call to repentance, and the apostle Peter, too, began his mission with the words, "Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins." If we have not honestly repented and believed in Jesus Christ, then we have not received the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, there is a lack of repentance in many of today's movements which see speaking in tongues as being "filled with the Spirit."

It is unwise to equate the receiving of the Holy Spirit with the pouring-out of particular emotions. As if that were the only way the Spirit worked! His indwelling does not depend on our emotions, but on our union with Christ, which is accomplished by God through our faith in him. The biblical conditions for receiving the Holy Spirit are repentance, faith in Christ, and the remission or forgiveness of our sins.

From a letter:

We must have reverence for the gift of speaking in tongues as described in Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12. But it is false and unhealthy to make a teaching or religion out of such a gift. In 1 Corinthians 13 we are told to ask for the higher gifts of faith, hope, and love, of which the greatest is love.

The gift of love leads to Jesus Christ, to community, to outreach, and to mission; it does not lead to talking about our own spiritual gifts. If we are filled with love, we may well speak in tongues, but we need not talk about it. Jesus says, "Go into your room, lock the door, and pray to God in heaven. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

The charismatic movement, which lays so much emphasis on speaking in tongues, is based on false teachings that bring division; it brings honor and glory to men rather than to God. If someone came to me and said he could speak in tongues, I would advise him not to talk about it but rather to show the fruits of the Spirit as described in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus did not teach us to speak in tongues but to refrain from making a show of our religion and to go the way of humility, love, and unity.

If we ask God for the gifts of prophecy, healing, and other gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13, we need to be watchful of wanting to receive honor for having them. We should not ask for these gifts for ourselves, but only on behalf of the whole Body of Christ on earth. For ourselves we ought to ask for pure hearts, wisdom, faith, hope, and love; for more patience and more compassion.

It is not the development of man that will change the course of human history - only the intervention of the living God in men's lives. When he has touched us, we may hope for a change of heart and soul and for the Spirit and the kingdom of God to come. The Spirit brings the joy of God: joy in love, joy in sharing with brothers and sisters, joy in pure relationships between men and women, and joy in justice and peace among races and nations. Of ourselves we remain poor, helpless, and tormented. But we must believe that the joy of God and his kingdom can change earth and heaven!